What type of species are we?
Seriously – think about this for a moment. Are we the type of species that could, knowing full well life existed elsewhere in the galaxy, resist the temptation to meddle?
Almost all of our explorations throughout history have been with the express purpose of finding and returning with something of value. Once found, the ‘gold rush’ is on even if there is plenty of it in our own backyard.
Europe had more than enough room for civilization in 1492, but when Christopher Columbus sailed to the new world, we had to accumulate more.
Diamonds which have now been found in Northern Canada have sparked a new mineral rush to the Arctic even though there are plenty to be found elsewhere in the world.
Existing oil reserves are plentiful enough to get us by the development of new technologies that no longer require us to rape the earth but we insist on doing it anyways.
If we are to explore the Universe, could we realistically do this when our technology is always just on the cutting edge of getting us to that shiny object in front of us but yet leave it alone if it proves to be something our ethic tells us we shouldn’t touch?
For example, let us assume for a moment that Gilese 581g is eventually discovered to have a moon which is approximate in size and mass to that of our Earth. For those not in the know, Gilese 581g is a planet approximately 4-5 times the size of our earth, sits in the habitable zone, and is less than 100 ly away from our solar system. If it had a moon with the same proportions as our moon, then we have just found probably one of the best potential planets to send a mission in order to explore for life.
If we found it thou – some type of pre-nuclear civilization – what would we do? Simply turn around and go home? Or would the compulsion to explore (meddle) be too much?
Most likely we wouldn’t have much of a choice. In the development of our technology we have typically taken a minimalist approach such that we carry with us just enough to do the job at hand and very little to spare. Explorers off to the continent of Australia picked up fresh supplies along the way. Finding green shores would typically mean we would want to avail ourselves of whatever is available for trade or plunder.
Getting to Gilese 581g and finding plants and animals – I doubt very much that any explorer would be willing to simply walk away without having the opportunity to touch down. As much as people would like to think that the morals of Star Trek would be the pervasive attitudes that would carry us into space flight, the reality is that the search for knowledge is tempered by a quest for value and rarity.
We are all looking for the bigger, better deal and without some form of control on our more basic human desires, we just simply cannot control that urge to open Pandora’s box once where know where it is.
It is our history.
Does that make us a grievously savage race? Possibly. Its hard to tell without comparison to other cultures which have done the same. Unfortunately, as Carl Sagan pointed out in his series Cosmos, the meeting of other cultures would surely be one sided, with either them or us being vastly superior in technology.
Maybe there is a galactic police out there whose job it is to protect lesser races. Maybe the law of the land is conquer or be conquered. The rush to meet aliens could result in an exchange of culture with technological benefits for the whole of humanity or it could result in enslavement.
Hawkins wants to suggest that we shouldn’t draw as much attention to ourselves on the basis of how it worked out for the native North Americans. I’m not so sure. There are as many possibilities for cultural exchange out there as there are likely to be stars in the sky. We can only control what we can control. What it is in our power to affect.
I think that at some point in the next several years, we need to start determining who we are as a species. Earth as a holistic culture – what are our values. How do we want to be perceived among the races that inhabit the galaxy. What ethos do we take with us. What compromises are we prepared to make. What sacrifices.
For example, what do we consider to be our ‘territory’ in this region of the galaxy? Everything within 50 lys? 100? Can we apply our tenets of international law to the way we interact with other species? Are we even entitled to the resources available within our own solar system?
When you are the only known sentient race within 100 lys of your home planet, the answers are pretty clear cut. But what do you do when the inhabitants of Gilese 581g come knocking on your door one day and inform you that your probes to Mars are an infringement on their rights in this sector?
It may be another 500 years before we make first contact as a society. But seeing how the human race is slow to change, it certainly wouldn’t be premature to start to think in terms of a galactic collective of which Earth is a part.
And maybe – just maybe – we can find the strength to work through our own local differences in the process when they are finally seen to be so small in comparison to what is awaiting us out there.
— Kevin Feenan